‘When I was really little I used to love dinosaurs,’ says an excitable Connel Bradwell when asked where his interest in animals stems from.
‘Then that progressed to birds and animals. From the age of six I’d go out and find things in the garden, taking notes in my little book. My parents were very encouraging. Plus we had a few rabbits. And I used to love the Really Wild Show!’
Fast-forward a few decades, and the now-25-year-old has moved from his native Loughborough, Leicestershire to Vancouver Island in Canada, where he works as a Wildlife Education Manager at Northwest Wildlife Preservation Society.
‘This year my programs and events have reached over 5,000 people,’ he enthuses. ‘Mostly [I’m booked by] primary, middle and sometimes high schools, and I do it for senior centres and young adults with disabilities.
‘I’ll talk about environments, habitats, ecology and anatomy, and the small things people can do to make a big difference to the wildlife around them.’
Connel’s work has even caught the eye of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – he’s one of 34 young animal conservation leaders heading to Johannesburg in South Africa later this month for the first Youth Forum for People and Wildlife.
Here, Connor – who graduated from Nottingham Trent University in 2013 with a BSc in Wildlife Conservation – shares his passion for all creatures great and small, from the plight of Scottish orcas to the mind-bogglingly huge species he’d bring back to life…
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Mostly it’s organizing, managing and delivering our wildlife education programs. I’ll get a booking from a school, find out what the teacher wants to cover, and go to the classroom to present. There’s also a practical element – I have mounts and taxidermy I take with me. Some of the programs I help manage are free to low-income kids: it’s about giving them opportunities to learn about nature.
What issues come up again and again?
Most people want to know what they can do to help. It can seem overwhelming, so I bring it down. Things like not leaving litter, using a reusable water bottle, walking on pathways, noticing the wildlife around you, learning about a species you see on your walk home…
Any other tips for GSN readers?
Take a reusable bag to the supermarket. Watch what you put down the sink. Put litter in the bin. Grow plants in your garden that are good for bees. Making a hole in your fence for hedgehogs to walk through. These little things make a big difference. You could also get involved with clean ups of beaches and urban gardens.
When did you first became aware of IFAW?
I’ve known about their work for years. I then saw a post about their call for applicants for the Youth Forum on a wildlife group website. I didn’t realise how widespread their work was until recently. I knew about their work in Canada and the UK, but I couldn’t believe the stuff they do in Russia, China and India!
Tell us more about the Youth Forum…
I was chosen as one of the 34 delegates to attend the week-long Youth Forum in Johannesburg. This is the first one. It’s basically a meeting of youth conservation leaders – a conference for young leaders to learn. I’m very excited. I’ve also never been to Africa, so I’m looking forward to that.
What will you be doing there?
We’ll be talking about animal welfare, global trade, conservation. All 34 of us come from different countries and very different backgrounds all over the world. We’re going as part of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which is a big meeting attended by government members.
How old is the youngest person attending?
I believe 18. Everyone is between 18 and 25.
What was the application procedure like?
You had to send in your CV and a letter explaining why you’d be good for the forum. Also answering questions: describing your commitment to causes, giving examples of your volunteering, how you’d use the forum to make an impact on your local community.
Have you volunteered a lot in the past?
I started volunteering at the Wildlife Trust when I was 13. I also spent summers in Scotland volunteering for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
How often do you get up close and personal with animals?
Almost every day in various ways. Even when I was in Leicestershire I used to go through the woods, or I’d watch birds and butterflies in the garden. That’s what I’ve tried to champion through my work, and my blog, Talk of the Wild. It’s good for nature, and people. It’s known to be good for your health.
What issues impacting on wildlife are especially pertinent to you?
I did my dissertation on endangered killer whales. There are a lot of problems. Toxic chemical waste and plastic pollution in the oceans really concerns me. It’s gotten so bad that the resident orcas in Scotland, for example, are probably going to become extinct as they’re unable to breed, and it’s thought to be because of toxins.
Is there an endangered species you feel is underrepresented in the media?
There are quite a few birds in the UK we don’t think of. The cuckoo for example. They’re kind of famous but people don’t realise how endangered they actually are. They’ve declined a lot over the last 20 years. Also the turtle dove.
If you could wave a magic wand, what law would you implement?
Better habitat protection. I would also like to see more wildlife education on school curriculums.
And finally, what extinct species would you bring back if you could?
The colossus penguin, which could grow 1.5 metres tall!
For more information about IFAW, click here.
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